Hardy tropical looking plants?

alexg(z5b ONT)June 20, 2002

Was wondering what your favorite hardy plants are - those that fit well into a tropical landscape. I am surprised at some of the offerings I have seen at nurseries, suggesting that they are tropical like. Those of you in zone 6 and lower - what looks like it belongs in your tropical garden?

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Musa bajoo---hardy banana. Hardy to zone 5,so I'm told. And this year I'm trying an interesting corn, Zea mays 'Quadricolor'. It's just small so far---it may be good, or not.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2002 at 12:47AM
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Hardy stuff I leave out, dies down and comes back in Spring:
Canna, all colors and sizes.
Gingers, all types
Bananas, especially the purple tinged ones
Passion vines, all types
Some weird bulb things with long Bromeliad type leaves and down turned white/maroon flowers, you commonly see them in old gardens here. (If anyone knows what it is, speak up!)
Agave plants, commonly known as Century plants here
Elephant Ears
Cast Iron Plants
Castor Bean plants (Very Poisonous)
Grecian Pattern Plants
Black eyed Susans
Birdseed Sunflowers
Rice Paper plant
Butterfly bushes
Purple Heart

Things I am going to try to leave outside, will overwinter bulk in garage or house, but am curious:
Bird of Paradise
Split leaf Philidendron

Support/background plants that give spring color:
Sweet Olive, just for the smell

Things I killed:
Tree Ferns

    Bookmark   June 21, 2002 at 8:18AM
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gardnpondr(Zone 8)

Sailor you don't say what zone you are in but I am in zone 8 and I leave my split leaf out all winter planted in the yard and it comes back every year so far. It is WELL mulched though. It has came back for 2 years so far! Its out under an oak tree in my yard.

Here is a link that might be useful: My Gardens and Ponds

    Bookmark   June 22, 2002 at 11:59AM
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Meghane(7b NC)

I have Ti plants from Hawaii that have come back every year for the last 3 years.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2002 at 5:02PM
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Probably just about anything with decorative foliage or intense coloration qualifies, when it comes down to it.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2002 at 9:20PM
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LoraxDave(z7B Alabama)

Sailor, your white and maroon bulb things may be Crinum?? Probably the Milk and Wine Crinum...

    Bookmark   June 22, 2002 at 10:16PM
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Maybe needle palm in a really well protected site for your zone. It has been said it can withstand temps to -20F and live! I'd also check out big leaved magnolia, M. macrophylla, huge tropical looking leaves.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2002 at 9:52AM
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Petasites, (giganteus) Rheum palmatum, Darmera, Heuchera, Bamboo, Catalpa trees, Princes Trees, (Paulownia) Sumac trees, Ornamental grasses, Honey Locust Trees, Mimosa trees, Black Locust Trees, Ferns, Tree of Heaven, (don't cuss me out)Hardy Hibiscus, Oriental lilies, Plume Poppies, 'KONG' Giant sunflowers..........next!

    Bookmark   June 24, 2002 at 10:37AM
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topsiebeezelbub(z7 Al)

I have spen the last 3 years digging up Tree of Heaven...don't plant it!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2002 at 10:55AM
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I wondered how long it would take to see a Tree of Heaven complaint..LOL!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2002 at 12:43PM
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There's another form of Ricepaper Plant - Tetrapanax that gets even bigger and appears to be a little hardier. Its called 'Steroidal Giant', its leaves look more like a castor bean than the normal Tetrapanax and can get to 5 feet across.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2002 at 3:17PM
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maleko(USDA 9)

Just a few tropicla lookoing plants;
Rhubarb, ornamental corn Zea Japonica, aucuba, certain rhododendrons, tradensias, glossy privets, mulberries, figs, oleanders, mimosas and acacias, eucalyptus, cactus dalhias, callas, ligularia, many lilies, some phlox, ground gingers, hardy cyclamen, some willows, podocarpus, long needled pines, evening primroses, red hot poker, kangeroo paw, nandina, euonamus japonica, cameleas, amuranthus, euphorobias, puka, phormiums, metrasedaris species and maitenisis trees

    Bookmark   June 30, 2002 at 11:36PM
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JohnnieB(Washington, DC 7a/b)

Kniphofia, Yucca, Hibiscus (hardy hybrids). Many bamboos.

Magnolia macrophylla is one of the most tropical-looking hardy trees. Both the leaves and flowers are enormous. I remember seeing it growing in Ithaca, New York (zone 5?) but it was growing in a sheltered location.

Catalpa, Paulownia, and some other hardy trees can be cut to the ground and will resprout with fast-growing juvenile shoots with enormous, tropical-looking leaves. Paulownia can grow to 15 feet in one growing season with leaves to 2 feet across. Start with a 2-3 year old seedling that has well-established roots but not a big trunk yet. I plan to try the same with mimosa next year (seedlings from a neighbor's tree are sprouting all over my garden this year).

Ailanthus responds similarly and is even more tropical looking, but suckers aggressively from the roots and is dangerous to invite into one's garden. Sumac is a native alternative for a similar look, although it is also somewhat invasive.

This year I'm growing Aralia spinosa from seed, which is another very tropical-looking hardy shrub with large compound leaves.

One plant I rarely see mentioned is skunk cabbage. The leaves can get quite large.

All of the above should be hardy to at least zone 6a.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2002 at 2:10PM
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I was under the impression that rhubarb does not do well in the southern states, for all of you in the heat zone, how is it doing for you?

    Bookmark   July 10, 2002 at 10:13PM
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Slimdew(z5 OH)

In my area I have Skunk cabbage EVERYWHERE I don't like to mess with it though since its not called SKUNK cabbage for nothing, It Stinks!!!! However the fact mentioned by Johnnieb is correct the leaves can become quite large.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2003 at 3:26PM
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brucem(z5 MI)

Some things I have and like: Norther sea oats (looks a bit like bamboo; very hardy, attractive seed heads); Fargesia nitida (a clump bamboo, non-invasive, 8-12' weeping black stems. Kind of expensive, available from Wayside Gardens catalog; Hakonechloa - a tropical-looking "grass" for high shade.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2003 at 10:42AM
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LaBella(Z7 BC)

Dare I mention any of the Helebores for shaded places,
and a crambe cordifolia for sunnyspots.
Both are hardy here and easy to leave out all winter.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2003 at 12:58AM
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Sunset Western Garden Book has a big list of tropical looking plants-
Catalpa, Firmiana, Paulownia, Fatsia, melianthus, Bamboo, canna, crinium, Gunnera, Zantedeschia, etc.
Donn Redondo Bch, CA

    Bookmark   October 28, 2003 at 12:19AM
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Heorot(7a North VA)

I have a lot of shade so the best tropical effect comes from large leaves. I particularly like Kirengeshoma palmata (yellow wax bell) and Sauromatum venosum (voodoo lily) with evergreen clematis climbing the fence behind them. Heuchera (Coral bells) and hostas are nice too. Astilbe and ferns add a different texture and lobelia cardinalis adds a splash of red.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2005 at 4:14PM
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AgastacheMan(z7 CA)

Musa, Hedychium, Alpinia, Globba, Gunnera, Colocasia, Nelumbo, Psoralea, and Heliconia are some of my favorites.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2005 at 12:52AM
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Arl_Tom(z7A VA)

Giant miscanthus is tropicalesque and very hardy.

Here is a link that might be useful: NCSU Factsheet

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 7:45PM
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jeff_w(z8 VA)

Don't worry about killing half your plants, unless it becomes too costly. I've literally killed hundreds of palms alone trying to learn and select the best plants and ways to grow them. I would say more than half the plants mentioned will die on you in your zone. No palm will survive without protection. If somebody mentions that a plant survived in a certain zone, it may be especially a hardy selection of a mature plant with some protection and they got the numbers wrong because it was in a microclimate. I've had enough "hardy bananas" not come back in zone 7, that I take the zone 5 claims with a grain of salt. Protection is the key, or dig it up and drag the sucker inside for the winter.

For your climate, I might go with magnolia virginia, skunk cabbage, catalpa, possibly bald cypress, bigleaf oaks, super hardy rhododendrons, hollies, and ferns.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2005 at 12:40AM
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Fatsia japonica, Acuba japonica, Euonymous japonica, magnolia virginiana, magnolia grandiflora, magnolia macrophylla, yulan magnolia, hosta, ferns,pseudotaxus, crape myrtle, yuccas, camelias, bamboos, photinia, araucaria (hardiest varieties up to zone 7),kiwi vines (where hardy), red trumpet vine, mimosa, & weeping willow.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2005 at 12:48AM
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heartrnnet(z6 So. IL)

Just planted some hardy bananas. Left out last winter at the greenhouse with two weeks of zero weather and came back. Should I take a chance, or dig em up and put em under the house? If I don't, do I cut back and mulch, or just let them go? Will they grow bigger the next time if cut back, or do they need to have the height left to become taller?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 1:10PM
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bihai(zone 9)

My favorite hardy tropical looking plants are the 2 different types of variegated Fatsia I have and the many different types pf amorphophallus.

Many gingers are hardy for us here, hedychiums, costus, curcumas...bananas are perennial, split leaf philodendron is evergreen, and thee are several landscape bromeliads hardy here

Variegated crinum is a killer accent

    Bookmark   June 9, 2005 at 7:00AM
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braspadya(z7a MD)


I tried to email you directly, put couldn't find a link to do that on your GardenWeb page.

If you search the Banana forum, you will find lots of info on growing Musa basjoo.

Having said that, here is how I grow mine in Zone 6/7. The first year, the plant was unprotected over the winter. It came back the next spring, but didn't grow as tall during its second summer in the ground. The last 2 years, I have built a wire mesh frame & filled it with dry leaves. Last summer, it grew quite well. It also gets a lot of fertilizer. It is hard to say how much the improved growth is due to 1) winter protection, 2) fertilization or 3) the plant getting larger each year.

In your area, I would definitely mulch it heavily with pine straw and dry leaves.

Hope that this helps,


    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 5:56PM
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ottawa_basjoo_z5a(z5 ON)

Its all depends on how hardy you want them to be. I live in a zone5a and i am overwintering all sorts of tropical plants. check out www.webshots.com and type in ottawa_hardy_tropicals.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2008 at 10:30PM
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In addition to all the above, unless I missed it, different varieties of the voodoo lily. I have one variety that comes back every year in zone 4.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 12:11PM
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Hey Kevin

Which variety of voodoo do you have? I have sauromatum venosum and love it, but I've always dug the bulbs up in the fall; they'd probably be fine but I didn't want to waste my 6 inch beauty trying to overwinter it.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 7:23AM
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nightrider767(San Antonio)

Heartrnnet, the heart of the banana plant is the corm. It's almost like a tulip bulb. If you are concerned, remove the dirt from around the corm and examine it. If it's "mush" then it's bad. If it's firm like a potato, then you are in luck.

The plant size is dependant on the corm size, as it grows, so does the rest. Cutting back in dormancy should not have a big affect as leaves re-grow rapidly when the temps warm...

My favorite hardy tropical plant, that's not hardy, is the canna. Sure it must be dug up in the winter in northern zones, but that's a very simple, easy process.

And few plants match the canna for "the tropical look". I consider it a must.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 2:23PM
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glen3a(Winnipeg MB 3A)

My favorite hardy plants that look tropical:

catalpa, especially with the unique hanging seed pods.

petasites, rhubarb, hostas

Vinca minor 'illumination' is a unique yellow/green variegated groundcover.

Sambucus racemosa Sutherland (Sutherland golden elder)


hardy grasses tend to look tropical,

Paulownia (empress tree) grown as a stool (cut to the ground each year, keep to a single trunk and it will get huge leaves).

colorful barberry's such as cherry bomb or gold nugget.

I read that in general, we tend to think of plants with overly fine foliage, overly colorful foliage, or overly big and bold foliage, as being tropical in appearance. On that note, maybe even garden asparagus with it's fine ferny foliage might add to the tropical look.

Also, there are different types of tropical climates. Plants like yucca glauca/yucca filamentosa, hens and chicks might add to the desert tropical look. Last year I grew these in pots beside a red cordyline.

The fun thing is to combine hardy plants with real tropicals and I agree, a few cannas, banana plants, even a palm tree bought in the houseplant section of the local store adds to the tropical look. Add flowering annuals, since most originate from the tropics such as hot colored marigolds, petunias, basically what ever you like.

Anything vining tends to look tropical such as clematis and other vines. For a quick growing annual vine try hyacinth bean with it's red flowers (and edible beans afterward).

I also have a copper plant which was in the 'proven winners' section at the local nursery. I found out it's actually a tropical shrub so I overwintered as a houseplant and it's going back outside this summer.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2008 at 2:40AM
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klavier(Z7 Baltimore)

Eucomis Bicolor. Been in my garden for 6 years. Some seed grown, some purchased, all survived -20 F and bloomed nicely.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2009 at 3:04PM
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Pokeweed I think looks tropical. With the large leaves, red tinted stems, and the berries I love it!

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 9:00AM
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